At no point in my adult life have I ever felt the compulsion to break free from the union of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. My naive view has always been “what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixed”.
Even when the SNP smashed their way through an electoral voting system that was designed to favour coalitions over overall majorities (with my support – but check out the alternatives, both at the time and now, if you like) I was not even remotely interested in an independence vote.
Since their announcement that an independence referendum would be held at around the time that nationalism could be at an all time modern high (Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in close succession) I’ve failed, until recently, to have my fire ignited.
The reason for this disinterest, apathy actually, has been the quality of debate. I’d heard little in the way of compulsive argument in the mainstream media and little more than rhetoric and, frankly, slightly xenophobic, pro support and ill-informed anti- counter-arguments.
The whole thing has been slightly embarrassing if I’m honest. “Aye” “Naw” “Aye” “Naw” has more or less summed up the discourse.
However, bubbling under the surface has been a steady stream of well thought out pro- arguments, mainly from the arts community to which I am close. Again I largely ignored these because my gut feeling was that artists are by their very nature often anti-establishment and more in touch with the cultural DNA of a community than the average man or woman. Their creativity can be inspired by an almost preternatural attachment to the environment in which they live rather than a rational assessment of the facts
The ‘No’ vote (Better Together) is well funded and has the massive advantage of being able to prey on the human instinct that eschews change and is fundamentally risk averse (If you don’t believe me do some reading on behavioural economics and, in particular, enjoy reading the seminal book on the subject ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness’ by Thaler and Sunstein).
In comparison the ‘Yes’ vote seems slow, maybe deliberately so, in getting out of the blocks. And when I say slow, I mean glacier-like.
And so, I’ve been unmoved by the whole sorry process; until recently.
What caused me to change my view was actually a deep-seated nervousness that this whole, potentially life changing, chapter in my life and my nation’s history was in danger of passing me by. That I, like most of my family, friends and colleagues, would assume a position (most of us anti-Independence) based on gut feel. “We’re part of the UK; a nation that punches way, way above its weight, so we must be OK.” That I, like most of my family, friends and colleagues would vote no because I’d heard nothing substantive to reinform my media-addled opinion. For “Aye” “Naw” “Aye” “Naw” read “Whatever”. And like most of us my default position (risk averse) would be “Naw”.
I felt deeply uncomfortable about this.
So I set out to have an opinion.
First stop. The ‘No’ vote.
What interesting pro-union essays, manifestos or informed publications should I read? Well, you tell me, I haven’t found one yet.
I have heard interesting sound bites in the news, such as we’d have to switch our mobile phones to roaming if we crossed the English border (following border checks of course) post independence. Now that’s not helpful. It’s not true, it’s not credible and it’s silly.
Last week Theresa May dropped an unsubtle and purely scaremongering threat that Scotland would be dropped from the protective embrace of the big 5 English speaking nations and the intelligence pooling . Oh come on.
And so to the ‘Yes’ vote.
I’m not a Nationalist, never have been. But as I said earlier I’d voted for the SNP at the last election because the quality of political argument from the alternatives (50 shades of Iain Gray) was so bad it actually made me wince. Salmond, love the cheeky wee monkey or hate him, kicked arse so hard that the entire field of opposition leaders resigned post election, only to be replaced with slightly less inept Westminster stooges.
So, you might argue that I was already subconsciously nudging my way towards the Yes box. Not that I thought so.
I am now though and the reason for this is that I read the recently departed Stephen Maxwell’s astounding extended essay on the what’s, whys and wherefore’s of Independence. Warts and all called Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risks and the Wicked Issues.
Stephen Maxwell is a lifelong SNP voter so you’d expect him to be pro independence (although actually he would argue strongly for Devo Max too) and so it transpires. But it’s the quality of his argument that makes this book essential reading. And by argument I mean just that. This is no Malcolm X style hustings sermon, it’s an all things considered, and shared, evaluation of the pro’s and con’s of crossing the ‘Yes’ box – and the Rubicon as a result.
It draws on precedence widely (Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia in particular – because these are the economies that most readily reflect the Scottish ecology) and considers the many, many what if scenarios that could change Scotland, post-independence, for better or worse.
- We run out of oil? (quicker than expected)
- There’s war?
- Europe rejects us (the Spanish hold pretty strong fishing gripes)?
- The banks collapse (again)?
- Alex Salmond pisses everyone off (again)?
I hear these arguments regularly from the “aye but” No camp. No, actually all I hear from the ‘official’ no camp is uncompromising stonewalling. Not debate, no weighed up arguments.
Oh, and that Alex Salmond pisses them off.
And sadly, most of what I hear from the ‘official’ yes camp is the same. (Apart from the Alex Salmond bit of course.)
But I digress, back to Maxwell. He rightly tempers his argument with these negative ‘what ifs’ because these need aired and intelligently valued so that the more positive ‘what ifs’ can be reasonably contextualized.
You can read it yourself for the detail but I’d summarise them, without referring to notes, thus;
- Would you rather your country was run from your country or from another country by a coalition you didn’t vote for and that even the majority of the rest of its own country didn’t vote for. (I won’t go into the demographics of this mob as Maxwell does it better than I can – but I’m sure you can work it out for yourselves.)
- The recent history of Westminster interventions on exclusively Scottish issues (in particular) fisheries policy has been, at best, indifferent, or worse, inept.
- The economic balancing act of tax raising/distribution has long favoured Westminster; Barnett Formula or no Barnett Formula – yes, yes I am referring to our oil.
And speaking of our oil;
- If, like Norway, we’d have set up an oil fund in the late 1960’s we too might have a £300bn war chest – not to mention widespread investment in de-risking the Klondyke. It’s not too late.
- It’s only half exhausted (and that’s before we explore deeper waters)
- It can fund R&D into renewable energy technologies which, if proven (and yes risky), will put Scotland on the front foot across Europe – like Norway.
But back to the argument;
- If you, like me, favour a Social Democracy you ain’t gonna find it any time soon in Westminster. But consider the SNP’s track record in this area.
- If you were planning a nuclear attack where exactly in the UK would you aim your sights – London and Faslane I’d argue.
- Trident costs Scotland £1bn a year. Few of us want it.
- HS2 anyone? Doesn’t come to Scotland. But we’d be paying for it.
- Would an independent Scotland have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq (and all that it cost). That’s a big fat no!
- The quality of our politicians would rise (the brain drain [sic] reversing).
Yes there are risks. The oil price might fall (do you think?), renewable energy may prove economically unviable, large corporates may walk (they did in the Irish case –in their droves INTO Ireland), we’d save money on Trident but we’d lose thousands of defence jobs at both Faslane and Rosyth (but we’d get our army back),
I am not a zealous pro-independent now. I recognise the risks but I do feel I am now better informed and that I at least have an opinion that I can now shape over the coming year.
Hand on heart; do you?